Joyous at reconciliation
A sense of jubilation has spread across the occupied territories at news of a reconciliation deal between Fatah and Hamas, though many details remain to be ironed out, writes Saleh Al-Naami
The meeting on 27 April of hundreds of soccer fans rooting for Barcelona or Real Madrid became an opportunity to express joy with the reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas that was signed that evening. A group of youth who gathered at a coffee shop in central Gaza, near Salaheddin Street connecting the north and south Gaza Strip, forgot their disappointment that their favourite Real Madrid lost the match. They joined Gaza's Barcelona fans in chanting demands to continue on the path of reconciliation and turning over a new leaf after years dogged by divisions and internal disputes.
Indeed, Palestinians across the Gaza Strip and the West Bank expressed jubilation as soon as the deal was announced. In several main squares in Gaza City, residents handed out candy, and the youth set off fireworks to mark the occasion. These scenes were repeated in most cities of the West Bank, which witnessed a number of marches supporting the agreement.
The Palestinians were taken by surprise that a deal had been struck, since there were no signs that progress was being made towards this end. Despite their surprise, sources told Al-Ahram Weekly that the tentative reconciliation agreement was preceded by intense secret contacts between the Egyptian Higher Council of the Armed Forces (HCAF), the Foreign Ministry and General Intelligence on the one hand, and the leadership of Fatah and Hamas on the other.
For four weeks, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry and the HCAF tried to overcome disputes between the two rival Palestinian groups. Hamas, Fatah and Egyptian officials made misleading statements in public to ensure the secrecy of the process that was taking place behind the scenes. Sources tell the Weekly that while the Egyptian Foreign Ministry made statements asserting that Cairo would be directing interceding in the dialogue, ministry and intelligence officials were submerged in bringing closer together disparate viewpoints on disputed issues.
Informed sources reported that the clandestine nature of the process allowed the Egyptians to put pressure on both groups, including "waving a carrot and stick" for both sides. The reconciliation deal is based on the Egyptian proposal reached in 2009, as well as a memorandum of understanding in April 2011, which was the secret document agreed upon in Cairo. Any amendment in the April 2011 document supersedes any articles in the 2009 plan.
The main articles of the tentative agreement reveal that both sides have changed their previous posture. Security issues were the most difficult to resolve and the core of contention between the two sides, including the formation of a supreme security committee to administer and run security agencies and appoint their leaders. Hamas had insisted that the members of this committee should be appointed by consensus between Fatah and Hamas, which the former strongly rejected. Fatah argued that President Abbas, in his capacity as the "supreme leader of the armed forces", is the only one who has the authority to decide who should head the security agencies.
According to the tentative agreement, Hamas's idea prevailed whereby the supreme security committee will be chosen by consensus. An official source in Hamas confirmed to the Weekly that accepting the group's position on security issues "is an achievement that surpasses all that Fatah had ever achieved". The move will guarantee that Hamas will be on an equal footing with Fatah in choosing leaders of the security agencies.
On the issue of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), there was consensus among all Palestinian factions that it needs to be overhauled on a basis that reflects the balance of power on the Palestinian political scene, and in a way that allows Hamas and the Islamic Jihad groups to become one. Accordingly, it was agreed that elections will be held to choose the members of the Palestinian National Council that generates leaders who run the PLO's institutions, such as the Executive Committee.
At the heart of the dispute between Hamas and Fatah is the leadership authority, which will run the affairs of the Palestinian people until parliamentary elections, and will include the secretary-generals of Palestinian factions as well the PLO's Executive Committee. Hamas argued that decisions within the leadership authority should be reached by consensus, while Fatah maintained that the Executive Committee has the right to take unilateral decisions about the future of the Palestinian people. The tentative agreement sided with Fatah's point of view, by stating that decisions by the leadership authority cannot be vetoed as long as they do not contradict the authority of PLO's Executive Committee, which is the sole representative of the Palestinian people. This essentially means accepting Fatah's perspective.
The two groups also sparred over who will decide the members of the Central Committee on Elections and the Elections Court; Fatah said that this is up to the president, but Hamas strongly disagreed. The new deal states that the members of the Elections Committee and judges sitting on the Elections Court will be chosen by consensus. The two lists will be presented to the president who will issue the necessary directives to make it into law.
The two sides also agreed to form a technocratic government to run the affairs of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, until legislative and presidential elections are held within one year. The government's tasks will focus on rebuilding Gaza, resolving civilian and administrative issues caused by division, and resolving the problems facing charities and NGOs.
Despite the success of reaching an agreement, it is important to keep in mind that this is only a tentative deal and that there are many details that could become time bombs that explode reconciliation efforts. For example, it is true that the sides have agreed to form a supreme security committee to oversee security agencies, but the goals of this committee have yet to be decided. Will security agencies continue to cooperate with Israel, and how will the committee deal with resistance movements?
Also, agreeing on forming a transitional government does not address the changes that occurred in the institutional apparatus in the West Bank and Gaza Strip after division. The governments of Fatah and Hamas each hired thousands of civil servants because there were two quarreling cabinets, but how will the interim government deal with this reality? How will it find funds to keep all these civil servants employed? Meanwhile, many domestic forces believe reconciliation will harm their interests if the deal is implemented, and are likely to try to sabotage the effort. There is of course, always, interference by Israel, which uses all forms of scare tactics against the Palestinian Authority (PA) to force it to turn down the deal.
It is difficult to predict the future of the reconciliation agreement despite purported common benefits for both Fatah and Hamas; it's as if the two were forced to sign the agreement and act in good will. For starters, Fatah realises that its margin of manoeuvrability now is very narrow after Abbas's political plan failed, since Israel refuses to settle the conflict. Also, because Abbas lost a vital regional backer in the overthrow of President Mubarak's regime, and there is great pressure by the people who demand an end to division. It is certain that as Abbas readies to go to the UN to obtain recognition for Palestinian statehood, he must prove to the world that he represents the entire Palestinian people and not just one faction, or a government that does not have full control of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Reconciliation is also supposed to serve the interests of Hamas, ending problems resulting from the difficult combination of governance and resistance. They have come to realise that governing under indirect occupation in Gaza makes Hamas the sole target for Israel to exert military, economic and political pressure. This is especially difficult after Tel Aviv succeeded in obtaining legitimate cover to target Hamas, its institutions and members in response to operations carried out by other Palestinian groups.
Reconciliation will also allow Hamas to become part of the new Arab regional order that is emerging in the wake of the Arab revolutions. At the same time, shedding the financial responsibilities of unilateral rule will make the group less dependent on assistance coming from Iran, which had restrained the group and forced it to maintain a specific posture. This stagnant position has cost Hamas a political and military price, but limiting financial dependence gives the group freedom to manoeuvre, making it stronger.
In short, if we look beyond patriotic and moral considerations, the interests of Hamas and Fatah are interlocked with achieving national reconciliation.